The promise of the kingdom in Luke 1-3 is a kingdom of great hope where the rich and powerful are brought down and the poor and struggling are lifted up. The promise builds and builds and then it comes crashing down: John the Baptist, the great announcer of this kingdom, the harbinger of the kingdom is put in prison by Herod. The powerful take over the weak, hope is dashed (see blog post from March 14).
As soon as John is put in prison by Herod we hear these words in Luke 3, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21–22 ESV) The line about Jesus being God’s beloved Son comes from Isaiah 42, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.” (Is 42:1–4 ESV)
Jesus begins his ministry with the same powerful promise we have been hearing: justice will come, it will be established, and God’s law (Torah) or way of right living will be brought to the coastlands (coastlands is a way of speaking of the remotest corners of the earth). Again, the promise of the first three chapters is raised, but with a difference. For all who thought that Jesus was going to be a Herod or a Cyrus or take on the ways of a Roman Emperor, Isaiah smashes that idea. Jesus is the suffering servant. He comes not to imprison like Herod, but to set people free. He comes not to crush the weak, like Herod and a hundred other despots down through the ages, but to bring sight to the blind, to bring the year of the Lord’s favor. And by the way, he does this for the nations, not just Israel. God’s law, his Torah will be not just for Israel but for all.
In a powerful contrast as Jesus’ ministry begins all those who believed that the Messiah was there to raise an army to defeat the enemies of Israel, all those who believed that the Messiah would crush like a Herod, find that their hopes are turned on their head. Jesus comes in a different way, his agenda is still justice, but that justice (don’t be fooled, this is not just individual salvation, this is justice to the nations) will be accomplished in a way different than Israel thought. It will be accomplished first of all by taking on Satan in the verses that follow.
But there is another piece to this, namely, how many of us find ourselves right where the people of Israel were as Jesus entered the world? We expect Jesus to come and crush as he shows himself for the second time. Is it possible that we are mistaken as they were in our understanding of New Testament language as they were by the language of the Old Testament? If we are wrong what would his second coming look like?
And one more thing: do we let our understanding of his second coming impact our way of seeing the world right now? Do we imagine that the world is a battlefield because that’s how we see things in apocalyptic literature? Could it be that if we saw the startling contrast that Luke makes between Jesus and Herod that we would see not a battlefield but a mission field? A mission field where people long to be set free from their prisons, where people long for God’s jubilee?